Insight Blog

8 Observations from APPA Town Hall Meetings

8 Observations from APPA Town Hall Meetings In a productive response to the COVID-19 virus, APPA – the organization representing leadership in educational facilities – has coordinated a series of Town Hall meetings to discuss concerns, share emerging practices, and answer questions. Held via a webinar on Friday afternoons, the meetings are free to attend. They are moderated by APPA Executive Vice President Lander Medlin who is joined by a rotating group of panelists comprised of facilities leaders, industry experts, and consultants.

The inaugural meeting on March 20, 2020 had over 1,100 people in attendance and the second session exceeded its capacity of 1,200.

Professionals who “attend” sessions for at least 45 of the scheduled 90 minutes are eligible to receive a CEU (continuing education unit) certificate. For those unable to attend the webinar in real-time, APPA posts recordings of previous sessions on its YouTube account: APPALeadership.

Gleaned from the sessions are the following eight observations about facilities management, some of which may remain relevant after the global pandemic subsides.

Measure Movement

Many institutions, especially major research universities, are accessed by a multitude of various users at various touch points on a daily basis. To help minimize the spread of COVID-19, facilities professionals can measure movement and narrow the path of travel.

Don Guckert, Associate Vice President of Facilities Management at the University of Iowa, reported that their facilities team uses card access data to track movement on campus. The team has designated certain rooms and labs, restrooms, entrances/exits as usable and has closed others. They have adjusted their cleaning and disinfection efforts based on what parts of each building are frequented. 

Make Accommodations

A “closed” campus does not necessarily mean one that is unoccupied. Colleges and universities with an international student population may have to accommodate their students with housing and dining options. At the University of Iowa, most students moved out of campus housing on a rotating schedule over a nine-day period; however, there were approximately 200 students who did not have a place to go. Guckert said the university designated one residence hall for them.

Some institutions may also maintain healthcare services during this time with an operational hospital or medical center on campus. Mary Vosevich, Vice President for Facilities Management & Chief Facilities Officer at the University of Kentucky, said that while their campus is considered closed, there are still 400 healthcare workers on campus and an operational Level 1 trauma center that remains open.

Conserve Energy

The Associate Vice President, Facilities Planning and Construction, Norm Young, of the University of Hartford noted that offices that can work from home are doing so. The few departments that need to be on campus such as facilities, public safety, IT, and healthcare services, have moved their operations into three to four buildings that will remain open. Temperatures will be lowered elsewhere to conserve energy. Likewise, there will little to no electricity and water used in closed buildings.

Vosevich agreed that being aggressive with energy conservation can help offset financial burdens, however; she cautioned that if a building has been shut down for a long period of time, water quality may be an issue.

Physically—not Socially—Distance

Dr. Michael Huey, MD, an Associate Professor of Family and Preventive Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine serves on the ACHA (American College Health Association) COVID-19 Task Force. He acknowledged that emotional, social, and financial disruptions have created stress, anxiety, and fear in ourselves and others with whom we typically interact. 

Dr. Huey encouraged people to physically distance but demonstrate social solidarity and remain in contact with others to support one another during this crisis.

Support from a Distance 

As universities transition to online or distance learning for the spring semester and summer sessions, the role of facilities could transition as well. Facilities professionals may support IT departments to ensure server rooms and equipment are properly secured and maintained. Kevin Folson, Director of Campus Operations at Trinity Christian Academy in Texas, believes facilities professionals can also support faculty members at their homes, which have become an extension of the educational facility. His initial suggestions include:
  • Provide the sanitary supplies they need to remain well
  • Assign the fleet to deliver supplies to them at home
  • Coordinate internet and other utility reimbursements.

Document Construction Activities

In some states, construction activities are allowed to proceed at this time. While many construction managers do document the number of workers onsite, names should also be recorded. This is crucial in case there is a known positive case of COVID-19 and people have to be notified. With split crews, skeleton crews, alternating crews on different days and staggered shifts, there are many people to keep track of and new disinfection practices can further complicate matters. Managers should have protocols for cleaning and disinfecting when they arrive and when they leave a site—and should document them appropriately.

Jeff Gee, Vice President of Swinerton Management & Consulting, urged every client owner to ask for a contractor or vendor’s COVID-19 plan. He also suggested that organizations document the financial impacts of the pandemic as that will be helpful when trying to pursue recovery opportunities in the form of tax credits.

Advance Projects When Possible

There is an opportunity with low occupancy to advance some construction projects that are already under contract. Sadie Greiner, Director, Design & Construction at the University of Iowa, has about 30 construction projects at the campus healthcare facility and 70-80 on the main campus. As of early April, only about 12 projects were delayed. She pointed out that by starting new projects ahead of schedule, they can be better phased and accommodate greater physical distancing. There is one downside to advancement: supply chain issues. Items shipped from overseas may experience a three-week delay in delivery and in some cases an eight to 12-week delay.

Consider Succession Planning

The Vice Chancellor for Facilities, Planning and Construction at the University of North Texas System sits on the state’s emergency management board. He (Steve Maruszewski) has been occupied with those efforts while also addressing bigger issues of the flagship university, such as whether courses should be graded on a pass-fail basis, what the stimulus package may mean for the institution, and what opportunities exist to save funds.

Maruszewski stressed the importance of having a strong succession plan in place. Facilities professionals are all being asked to fill in the voids and perform tasks they might not normally have to do. It is key to have a trusted team in place who can step up when called to do so.

For more insight, visit APPA’s COVID-19 Resources and Guidelines page where you can read RAQs (recently asked questions), register for the next weekly Town Hall webinar, and listen to previous Town Hall recordings.